Senior living communities are busy places, full of friendships, social opportunities, and the right amount of assistance from trained team members. However, even though these vibrant communities are in nearly every town across the country, family members can feel nervous about bringing up senior living to their aging loved one.
If you’re worried about broaching the subject, you can benefit from knowing how to make the conversation less confrontational and more productive. Here are a few tips that we have seen work for families who are ready to begin the conversation.
Before you can begin to talk about senior living with your loved one, it is helpful to nail down why you believe it could be a viable option.
Perhaps you believe senior living would be a safe option for your loved one due to a history of falls at home. One out of every four seniors in America fall each year, making it a major public health concern that can lead to serious injuries, unexpected hospital stays, and even death. Senior living communities are designed to decrease fall risks thanks to environmental adjustments, as well as on-hand team members who can provide assistance as needed.
Other medical concerns that could lead you to believe senior living is a good option include recent medication management accidents or errors, a complex medical condition, or chronic pain.
Medical concerns may not be on your list, and that is okay. You might believe that senior living is an excellent option because of the healthy socialization opportunities that can decrease negative health outcomes, chef-styled meals that provide better nutrition, or simply the reassurance of knowing someone is there in case of an emergency.
It can be helpful to write down the reasons you believe senior living could be a good choice for your loved one. If the list is long, narrow it down to your top three to use during your conversation. This list can be a place you return to as your loved one’s needs or challenges change.
Before you bring up senior living to your loved one, take time to get the opinion of your trusted family members. Depending on your family dynamics, bringing up your concerns or soliciting the opinions of your family members might make you feel a bit anxious.
It’s okay! Take a deep breath and remember that your loved one has many people who care for them, and their opinions matter too.
Involve your siblings, and get their opinions in a non-confrontational manner, by simply asking how they think your loved one is doing at home. Are they thriving there or simply getting by? Then, listen to their answers; you might be surprised at how they view the situation.
No matter what, it is helpful to get feedback and opinions from others in your family. This is true not only because they’ll be a part of the decision-making process, but also because everyone has a different and valid perspective of how your loved one is doing at home based on their own visits or conversations.
Now you’re ready to take the first step in having a conversation about senior living communities with your loved one.
It is important to remember that although you feel ready to have a conversation about senior living, it might come as a shock to your loved one. Be sensitive to their initial surprise or confusion.
It’s also wise to resist the urge to have a conversation with other people present, which might intimidate your loved one and lead to a more defensive response. This isn’t an intervention, but instead it’s a conversation between you and your loved one.
Try bringing up your thoughts about senior living communities in a calm manner. Talk about specific incidents or diagnoses that have made you worry about your loved one’s safety or health. Then, talk a bit about how senior living could fill that gap.
Another useful tip is to talk about your worries without using language that puts you at the center. Instead, put their needs at the center of the conversation. For example, saying, “I will feel better knowing you are in a senior living community where people can help if you fall” is not as effective as, “I know that fall last month scared you. If you live in a senior living community, someone will always be there to help if that happens again, which will be one less thing for you to worry about.”
Show the value of senior living communities by talking about the amenities and services that will enhance your loved one’s lifestyle or eliminate a chore they dislike. For example, a senior who hates keeping up with lawn care may love that senior living communities offer a maintenance-free lifestyle. Or an older adult who finds cooking three times a day exhausting might love the fact that senior living offers delicious meals served among neighbors in a social dining room.
Finally and most importantly, stop the conversation when it is no longer productive or if your loved one becomes angry or defensive. Switch the subject to something more pleasant, and revisit the idea at a later date.
In some cases, family members are surprised at how eager their loved ones are to begin exploring senior living. In fact, seniors can be intrigued with senior living communities but may be worried about bringing it up to family members. If your loved one seems curious or ready to begin exploring their options, go with it and help to facilitate tours of communities near their desired location.
In most cases, you are not going to make a decision to begin looking at senior living communities after one conversation. Instead, the discussion should be ongoing. You will likely have to revisit the conversation over a series of weeks or months, and that is okay. Bringing up the topic multiple times offers the opportunity for your loved one to ask questions and express their opinions or worries after they’ve had time to think about them.
To get the conversation restarted, try asking questions. Use openers like “Have you given any thought to senior living since we talked about it last?” or “Would you be interested in going to this upcoming event at the senior living community your neighbor Betty moved to?”
Remember that your loved one may have a lot of questions about senior living, but may feel overwhelmed about asking them. Be patient and prepared to revisit the conversation multiple times.
Seniors can worry about exploring senior living because they feel like they are losing control over their own lives and choices. Combat this by making it clear that your loved one gets to be an active part of the decision-making process. In fact, your role is to advocate for them so they can get the lifestyle and services they want.
Involve your loved one in various ways, such as:
Don’t forget to involve your loved one’s financial advisor as you begin to look at senior living options as well. Taking the extra step to advocate for your loved one’s budget preferences also reinforces that you are there to support your loved one’s decisions, not to make them on their behalf.
Finally, senior living communities offer more than an apartment; they offer a lifestyle. Encourage your loved one to experience the lifestyle before they make a decision by asking them if they would like to attend meals or events at senior living communities they are considering.
It’s important to remember that moving to a senior living community is a big decision, and the most confident decision is made when you can take your time. Unfortunately, a medical crisis or emergency room visit can make senior living inevitable, but without the luxury of taking the time you need to make the best decision. Starting the conversation about senior living sooner rather than later gives you and your loved one the time to make a well-informed choice, without the stress of a hospital stay or emergency.
When you’re ready to begin searching for senior living communities, make the most of your tour by knowing the questions to ask and observations to make. Download our free resource, 5 Steps for Evaluating and Choosing the Right Senior Living Community, to make the process more efficient.